Friday, June 25, 2010

For Mature Audiences Only - Common Atlantic Eider

THE FOLLOWING PROGRAM CONTAINS CONTENT THAT SOME VIEWERS MAY FIND OBJECTIONABLE. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
These Common eider hens and chicks are so cute that you'd be tempted to take one home for a pet, like an Easter chick without the pink dye. These are specifically, Common Atlantic eiders because they are on the reflecting pool of the Washington Monument. Now look, be serious. They are on the Atlantic ocean. Every spring, starting in May, we get flotillas of them feeding along the rocky shore line and resting on the rocks. The hens make a mumbling sound which makes us think of old men playing chess in Central Park. The chicks peep-peep-peep like most chicks do. We can even hear them at night because they sit up on the rocks in the dark. Eiders are a big, sea duck. Their soft feathers are of 'eider down' fame, though today most pillows and quilts are stuffed with farm raised ducks and geese. Within barely hours of hatching, the chicks take to the water where they learn to dive immediately. Diving is how they get crustaceans from the bottom and also how they stay safe. When airborne predators show up, the chicks bunch together with the hens and dive. The mumbling and peeping are delightful to hear and we look forward to the chicks first appearances every year. In our neighborhood, we call each other up on first sighting, "The chicks are here!" But from there on out, it gets really ugly.

We also have a pair of gulls residing on our pier. They are a mated pair and like all living things, they must eat too (this is the point where you'll want to get the kids and the faint of heart out of the room). They are very fond of eider chicks. By yesterday, a brood of thirteen eider chicks born a week ago, had dwindled to five as they were picked off by gulls and eagles. Bald eagles like them also, but they aren't as good at snagging them as the gulls are. When the gulls or an eagle cruises around, the hens usher the chicks into a tight bunch. If they are on the rocks, they all take to the water and rush away from the shore so they can dive. The hens stretch their necks in the air, heads raised issuing alarm calls. Two days running I saw the gulls grab chicks. They swooped, grabbed then flew off to flail their prizes on the rocks while the hens screamed. As soon as it's over, everybody goes back to their business like nothing happened. It's a wretched, natural drama that plays out every year and begs the question "Do you have any Grey Poupon?"


14 comments:

  1. We know it happens every year,and we dread seeing the gulls and eagles go after the babies.
    Mother Nature,survival of the fittist etc.but
    they are so cute.Good photos.

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  2. Thanks, bmc. Sad, but true. That drama is one of the few things that aren't so lovely to watch around here. Otherwise, who can complain about life on the water?

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  3. Yes, survival of the fittest, but it is still sad.

    Thank you for making the text larger! Now I don't have to use the lower part of my trifocals. But would you do me a favor? Speak up a little louder, I'm having trouble hearing you!

    John

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  4. Eh? Eh? What's that yer sayin' Sonny Boy? Can't hear ya! Pass me ma dentures there will ya? Anything for a friend!

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  5. John sounds like an eminently reasonable man, with pithy comments, to boot.

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  6. FF, Indeed he is and has a lovely informative web site: http://www.birdingmaine.com/ You should check it out!

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  7. That is totally what nature is all about, but don't you wish you could run out in your bathrobe and throw something at the damn seagulls? I would be tempted to sit and watch when they did decide to use the drive up window, to scream and yell. Hoping the seagulls would forget about the baby chicks and go get a meal somewhere else. I also like the larger font,especially on the black background. Great blog and always a good post to read.

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  8. More than the eyes and heart can bear, but thanks for warning me first. Seagulls should stick to garbage dumps. Next time I come to Maine I am bringing a slingshot to protect the little baby chicks. AMEN.
    HG

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  9. Whoa, gulls will eat anything - I'd wish they eat other things besides little ducklings/chicks.

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  10. This natural activity can appear very cruel but it's all part of natures natural balance...as every creature plays its role. I also watched a Lesser Black-backed Gull swallow a Lapwing chick last week and a Herring Gull devouring a deceased rabbit! Thank goodness we humans are not naturally cannibals,

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  11. Thank you from my old tired eyes.

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  12. I think our double standards are interesting. We humans used to use eider down to stuff pillows and such, which was okay. Be we have big problems with Herring gulls eating eider chicks. Go figure.

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  13. Thanks again, Robin, for your amazing stories and pictures. Have you ever seen where the Eiders nest down your way? I am always puzzled by that....their sudden appearance, but where did they nest? It is always hard to figure how a bird can eat a bird! Ron

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  14. The egret is beautiful,and I love the black legs.The story about the eagle with the bum leg is also interesting but,I wonder what happened to him? Like,did he fall out of the nest ?Love the eaglet photos.
    bmc

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